Ethan Sturm | Rules of the Game
A classic disappointment
Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 01:03
Sunday afternoon, the United States faced a travesty of incomparable magnitude. Well, at least for those who get MLB Network and follow the World Baseball Classic and care about the results of the glorified exhibition.
Team USA found itself six outs away from a loss to Canada, a team that, at that point, had played a total of three players with significant major league experience. A defeat would have eliminated the Americans and dropped them to a last place finish in their pool. Had they finished as cellar dwellers, they would have had to go through qualifying just to participate in the next World Baseball Classic.
This isn’t the World Cup we’re talking about — at least in that sport we’re relative novices. This is baseball, America’s pastime, a sport we invented. We call that title of our nation’s league the World Series, but after losing to Mexico on Friday night, we barely deserve to call it the “North American Series.”
Some might argue that this is far from the best team America can put out there — after all, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout were nowhere to be found. But we tried “the best team” back in the 2006 tournament, and Jeter, Rodriguez, Teixiera, Jones, Damon, Holliday, Griffey and Utley couldn’t even get us to the semifinals. But the disappointing results of Team USA call upon a large issue in the overall structure of the tournament and how it’s run. If the event hopes to ever hold even a tiny fraction of the relevance and importance of international events like the Olympics or the World Cup, a lot of things need to change.
First of all, the event’s timing couldn’t be worse. Teams don’t want their players risking their bodies during spring training, even if it’s for their country. Teixiera’s wrist injury, the result of World Baseball Classic preparation, won’t do anything to alleviate the fears of owners. The injury risk also leads to inane situations, like knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who was limited by rule to 65 pitches on Friday, though he could easily throw 200 in a single game.
Instead, the tournament should follow the lead of the World Cup and run closer to the end of the previous season than the beginning of the next. Play it in December, somewhere warm and tropical that players can write off as a vacation. The injury risks will be dampened, as players would have plenty of time to heal, and owners couldn’t complain about it taking up valuable spring training time, as the late George Steinbrenner did back in 2006.
Once it’s having less effect on the regular season, let’s bump it up to every two years instead of every four. The World Cup works in a quadrennial system because there is plenty of other international soccer, but with baseball no longer in the Olympics, the World Baseball Classic is the only game in town. While the World Cup builds anticipation through four years, the Classic gets forgotten by the time the cycle has completed.
Finally, the format needs an overhaul. Get rid of the small pool system; baseball isn’t meant to be separated by the results of a three-game, round robin. Either adopt the Olympics’ old system of larger pools, or get some three-game series going. Either way will allow for more eye-drawing matchups, whether clashes of elite teams or intense rubber games. It will also take away the feeling that, with such a small game sample size, advancing and winning are simply luck.
According to a University of Michigan study, 1.4 million Americans tuned in for the 2006 edition of the World Baseball Classic. But I have to imagine that as the novelty has worn off, the high ratings have too. I’ll be watching Team USA the rest of the way — but if they want people to join me, it’s time for baseball to enhance its international game.
Ethan Sturm is a senior who is majoring in biopsyschology. He can be reached at Ethan.Sturm@tufts.edu or @esturm90.